Remember sprouting a bean in a paper cup and Zinnias in an egg carton in Kindergarten? What good teachers we had because at such a young age we were offered hands on learning in the mystery of life! Not only were we proud enough and skilled enough to write our names on paper, but we were on a road to discovery, in touch with the world of mysterious things.
Teachers know that gardening opens a door to the untold questions and lessons to be learned about life on earth. Ontology, Physics, Biology and the Earth Sciences all rolled into a single lesson plan.
We learn about ingredients. We learn about time and relational succession. We learn about the need for balance. We learn patience. We play with our fascination. We learn to anticipate life. We study the science of soils. We watch the weather and chart the position of the sun and its relationship to the earth and all this to our very sustenance. We study our relationship to soils and water. Our education will be of the perfect loam, a metaphor with the power to take all of us beyond simply gardening to a deeper kind of knowing; to first grade and beyond!
It does seem quite magical, even miraculous, to experience the transformation that takes place between a small dried speck stuck into the mud by your very own hand (or your kid's hand) and the emergence of a bright green little living thing. And kids love to play in the mud. Kids love to squirt water at things. They like to dig. They get interested in the way things work. They take an interest in tools. They learn the mechanics of work, the advantages of planning and sustained attention to one's projects, the basic relationship between work and food, and beyond that general commerce. They learn conservation and what it means to protect plants. The lessons are truly endless.
A seed -- a Zinnia seed for example -- is made up of three things, a tiny embryo, some food for the embryo, and a nice hard coat for protection. Since the world is a really harsh place, especially for embryos, the seed coat is needed to protect the embryo from freezing or drying air. But if the seed finds its way to the perfect conditions -- the right moistness, the right temperature of the soil, the right depth, etc. -- the hard outer coat will soften and finally open. This happens in springtime a lot, when the conditions become just right. When the coat opens, water is allowed to enter and touch the embryo and the stored food. Water in this way is necessary for growth. When the embryo starts to grow, it will use the stored food for energy. Part of that energy will be used to grow a root system for finding more food and water which will in turn generate more energy. Energy will also be spent on sending up a stem with leaves searching for the perfect amount of sunlight.
The gardener's place in all this is to make sure the conditions are right for the process to take place, but also that the conditions remain perfect so that the process of growth can continue. We become companions to the plants (and visa versa), keeping track of their growth and fulfilling their basic needs. They, in turn, fulfill our needs in various ways.
Gardening is really amazing and children pick up on it, usually right away. The garden is truly an educational campus right in your own back yard.
Ask your kids what sort of garden they would like to grow. Give them some curious suggestions.
Some types of gardens to consider:
Making the garden fun:
Imagine one of the goals as a parent is to raise children such that when the time comes for them to be on their own, perhaps when hiking in the woods nearby, they will not be so inclined, even if tempted by others, to carve their names into the trunks of trees. If you have ever been in a Birch or Aspen forest you will know why this might be an important goal for a parent. The difference in quality between a forest stand that has been left alone and one that has been carved and abused, is palpable. Let's teach our children to love and respect trees, especially in the wild.
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A designated garden for small kids should probably be free of poisonous plants, but in fact, poisonous plants are very common in landscaping. Many houseplants are poisonous, too. So, it's a good idea to know which ones they are, and to let your kids know, too.